Conceived of by its supporters as a unifying force in this largely rural community of 3,800, the Gilmanton Year-Round Library continues to be at the center of an ongoing dispute over the funding of its operating costs seven years after it opened its doors.
Gilmanton has two other small libraries that receive modest levels of official town support but are not open on a full-time basis; the Corner Library next to the former Gilmanton Academy building which now houses town offices and the Gilmanton Iron Works Library, built in 1916 which is only open during the summer months,
The Corner Library, housed in what had been Ira Pennock's cobbler shop, celebrated its 100th anniversary as a library in 2012 and is open six hours a week during the winter. Both of the small libraries lack room for expansion
Deb Chase, a trustee of the Gilmanton Corner Library, said the Corner Library is the only true public library in town because it is owned by the public. She says that the other two libraries are privately owned and controlled by private boards of directors.
But neither of the older libraries has ever been funded at the levels of the newer year-round library.
This year, voters will be faced with a petitioned warrant article which would authorize the town to spend $50,000 a year for the next three years to support the library's operations, which because it totals an appropriation of more than $100,000, will require a 60 percent majority vote. Another petitioned warrant article calling for an appropriation of $50,000 to support the library's operations will also be on the ballot will require only a majority vote.
Built as a result of a nearly decade-long drive by volunteers who decided to create a modern full-service library in one of the only towns in the state that lacked a full-time public library, the library was built from an 18th century barn which was found in North Hampton and was dismantled and moved to a five-acre field across from the Gilmanton School where it was reassembled.
The volunteer group led by Elizabeth Bedard was formed in 1998 and raised $675,000, mostly in donations and grants as well as fundraisers like selling T-shirts and mugs, holding ice cream socials and walkathons and publishing a cookbook of local recipes.
Its efforts were rewarded with a completed two-story timber-frame building which highlights the rough-hewn beams from the original barn and is surrounded by a modern shell. Inside are more than 8,000 books, six computers for public use and wireless Internet for those with laptops, as well as audio books, newspapers, magazines, DVDs and CDs.
The group even had plans to establish an endowment fund which would pay the operational costs of the library and in 2008 started advertising in alumni magazines of Harvard and other Ivy League colleges in an effort to attract a donor for whom the library would be named.
But that never materialized, and late in 2008 the group announced that it would ask for $75,000 at the 2009 Town Meeting to fund the library's operations.
After a divisive, bitter debate, the article was defeated by a convincing margin, 224 to 125, at the March Town Meeting. Opponents claimed the association members had long promised they would never ask for tax dollars to support their library.
The Year-Round library was able to open in 2009 after it received a gift of $75,000 from an anonymous donor and ever since then it has turned to the community for support for its operating budget, usually in the $45,000 range.
But in 2013, the first year of SB 2 official ballot law voting, the funding request was turned down 400-322, raising concerns over whether or not the library would remain open. In 2014, the funding article passed by just 17 votes, and in 2015 it won by nearly 100 votes.
Selectman Don Guarino, who said he is a card-carrying supporter of the library, said the dispute lingers due to what he says were promises by library supporters that the facility "would never become a burden to taxpayers."
He says that there are good people on both sides of the public funding issue and that he would prefer to see the operating funds raised through community donations rather than property taxes.
Guarino said that selectmen will have to vote soon on whether they support or oppose the petitioned warrant articles as that information must be on the printed ballots at town meeting.
Chris Schlegel, president of the library association, said that the organization decided to ask for a three-year commitment of funds from townspeople in part because members felt that the yearly requests have become a divisive force in the community.
But, more importantly, she said that knowing the funds will be available in future years will allow the librarians to plan programs more effectively.
"It also shows that we're still committed to raising funds for the library's operations well into the future," said Schlegel.
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